Since civil government is God’s idea and its leaders are accountable to Him, it is vital that a nation’s civil rulers are able to fulfill the responsibilities that God has placed on civil government. According to the example of Scripture, rulers are established according to the consent of the people (Deuteronomy 1:13–15; 17:14–15; Judges 8:22; 9:6; 11:8, 11; 1 Samuel 8:5; 10:20–24; 11:15; 12:1, 12–14; 2 Samuel 26:18; 1 Kings 1; 12:16–24; 2 Kings 14:21; 1 Chronicles 12:38; 2 Chronicles 23:3). The people are granted this right in order to meet their responsibility to God for the conduct of their government. Just as God directs the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), He also directs the heart of the people to select their rulers according to His plan for judging or blessing a nation. To assist men in choosing their civil rulers, God’s Word lists several qualities that indicate godly leadership with the potential to fulfill civil government’s God-given responsibilities.
In Exodus 18:21–22, Moses’s father-in-law gave him the following godly advice from which we can derive several principles for selecting our own rulers today: “Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” Here we see that it is advisable to “provide [as rulers] out of all the people able men”; that is, select a leader from among the citizenry based on an evaluation of his fitness to rule. The term “able men” refers to adult males. God’s design is that adult males lead a society (Isaiah 3:12). These men are to be natural leaders based on their distinguished reputation for valor, wealth, skill, etc. These men must also “fear God” (believe in their accountability to God for their actions), be “of truth” (marked by stability, certainty, trustworthiness), and “hate dishonest gain” (personally hate plunder).
Moses, speaking on behalf of God, instructed the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1:13–15: “Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you.” These men were to be selected based on their wisdom (intelligence, prudence, cleverness, and skill), understanding (ability to distinguish between good and evil), and experience (“known among your tribes”—i.e., familiarity with matters relevant to the position).
Proverbs 31:3–5 says, “Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.” We see here two additional qualifications for civil rulers: being a one-woman man and not being an alcoholic.
God also warns against wicked leaders who pervert his intended purposes for civil government. His Word uses strong language to describe His opinion of such rulers:
- Psalm 109:8: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.”
Proverbs 16:12: “it is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness.”
- Proverbs 17:15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that
condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord”
- Isaiah 1:23–24: “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies”)
To warn nations against such rulers, the Scriptures list the character qualities and conduct by which they are identified.
Isaiah 1:21–31 labels them as “rebellious,” “companions of thieves,” those who “loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards,” as well as the Lord’s “adversaries” and enemies,” “transgressors,” “sinners,” and “they that forsake the Lord.”
According to Isaiah 5:20–24, they “are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight,” “are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink,” and “have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”
Isaiah 13:11 says, “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” Here “terrible” could also be translated as “tyrants” or “despots”; tyrants are marked by haughtiness.
Job 34:27–30 says that tyrants are those that have “turned back from him, and would not consider any of his ways” and are marked by hypocrisy.
Proverbs 28:16 describes tyrants as lacking understanding: “The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor.”
Ecclesiastes 10:16 teaches that immaturity and valuing pleasure before work are also marks of tyrants: “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!”
Micah 2:1 adds that they obsessively plan to accomplish wicked schemes because they believe that “might makes right.” “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! When the morning
is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand.”
Christ also mentioned some of the qualities of tyrants. In Luke 22:25–26 He said that “the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.” Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18:1–5 in which He described a judge who “feared not God, neither regarded man” and whose only motive for enforcing coercive justice was personal welfare.
In summary, we contrast the list of Scriptural qualities indicative godly leaders with ungodly leaders: citizen,distinguished, adult male, believe they are accountable to God for their actions, consistent, trustworthy, personally hate corrupt gain, intelligent, skilled, experienced, able to distinguish well between right and wrong, morally pure/a one-woman man, and a non-alcoholic vs. a rebel, a companion of thieves, loves a bribe, chases after rewards, an adversary and foe of God, a transgressor and sinner, forsakes the Lord, rejects God’s Law, despises God’s Word, wise in his own eyes, an alcoholic, exceedingly proud, immature, values pleasure over productivity, does not fear God, does not respect man, values personal welfare over justice, godless, and one who lacks understanding.
In the weeks to come we will look at some of the candidates running for President in light of these qualities. We hope you will share your thoughts and insights with us as we look for godly leadership qualities in those running for our nation’s highest office!
In Christ – Samuel and Lydia